For Keri Morrill, working as a community health worker (CHW) at North Country HealthCare for the Arizona Health Start Program in Flagstaff for 11 years has been much more than a standard 40-hour-a-week job.
Her work brings her into her clients’ lives, where she does home visits, goes with them to appointments, attends births and much more. She meets with each client several times per month while they are enrolled in the Health Start Program, walking with these mothers through their pregnancy, birth and the first two years of their child’s life.
Morrill is just one of the many Health Start CHWs making a difference for high-risk mothers throughout Arizona.
Researchers from Northern Arizona University’s Center for Health Equity Research (CHER), University of Arizona’s Center for Population Science and Discovery and the Bureau of Women’s and Children’s Health, Arizona Department of Health Services recently published a report detailing the impact of the CHW program on the health of mothers, infants and young children.
The study compared records from 7,212 women enrolled in Health Start to 53,948 women not enrolled in the program from 2006 to 2016. Researchers assessed the program’s effect on low birthweight and preterm birth outcomes, prenatal care attendance and child immunizations for Health Start participants.
According to Kelly McCue, CHER senior research coordinator, community health workers like Morrill change the world.
“They understand better than any health professional what mothers are feeling and experiencing,” McCue said. “It really is no wonder that we are seeing the positive impact of Health Start community health workers in the data.”
The study found that mothers who participated in Health Start had better birth outcomes, prenatal care attendance and child immunization rates compared to mothers who did not participate in the program.
Because of their unique ability to be in a client’s home consistently, CHWs are able to educate clients on the importance of immunizations and to discuss their fears and safety concerns frankly, breaking through any barriers through consistent support, care and encouragement, according to the researchers.
The researchers recommend integrating CHWs as a cost-effective health care workforce in community-based and clinical settings to reach rural and vulnerable populations.
Samantha Sabo, CHER associate professor, said it is long overdue for CHWs in Arizona to be included in any team or organization serving pregnant and postpartum women.
“If there was a magic bullet, it is a Health Start CHW home visitor who provides families relevant and trustworthy information and serves as the link to the community resources needed for a healthy life,” Sabo said.
For more information on CHER’s work with Health Start, visit the CHER Health Start project page.